- Associated Press - Saturday, June 16, 2018

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - Tracy Barrett, who graduated from Lead-Deadwood High School in 1979, developed a love for Africa and lions when she was 5 years old.

“It was at the Homestake Theater, my mother took me to ‘Born Free’ the movie, and as soon as I saw the landscape of Africa and the lions, I would not sit down,” she recalled. “I just had this unbelievable connectedness to this incredible animal that I did not understand.”

After graduating from the University of South Dakota with a master’s degree in speech pathology, Barrett spent time studying Jungian psychology in Chicago where she met Jason Turner, lion ecologist and senior scientific adviser for the Global White Lion Protection Trust. It was then that she learned about the white lions of Africa and the efforts being made to protect them, and in March of 2017, she traveled to the sanctuary to see the work being down.

Barrett explained that it’s a misconception that white lions are albino, which can carry with it misconceptions about the white lion’s ability to hunt.

“People have a misnomer that they are weaker lions, that it’s a deformity in the wild, and that’s absolutely untrue,” she told the Black Hills Pioneer . “They are as predatory as any tawny lion, they’re as successful in the wild, and they do have a type of camouflage.”

Instead, their white pigmentation is the result of a genetic mutation, and much like the white bison of the Great Plains, or white moose of Canada, is revered by the indigenous people. White lions are only native to the greater Timbavati/Kruger Park region of Africa, and the oral records of the African elders in those areas say that white lions have been around since the last ice age and have been guiding and protecting the tribes in the region since mankind first appeared.

The earliest noted record of a white lion sighting was in 1938; since that time, white lions have been hunted, captured, and raised in so-called “canned hunting facilities” with the explicit purpose of being hunted. The heads and paws of the white lion are of particular interest to trophy hunters.

In 2002, author and conservationist Linda Tucker founded the White Lion Trust with the sole purpose of finding, saving, and protecting white lions from captivity and returning them to their ancestral homeland in Timbavati. It’s estimated that there are fewer than 500 white lions alive in the world, with the vast majority of them are living in captivity waiting to be hunted for sport. Tucker and her team have only managed to rescue 12 white lions and return them to a 4,400-acre area of protected endemic bushveld.

The specific location of the White Lion Trust conservation area is largely kept a secret, and photography of the lions is strictly prohibited in order to ensure the safety and anonymity of the animals; however her time there is something Barrett says has changed her life forever.

“When you meet them, it’s a heart-awakening experience,” she said. “I’d never felt as much peace as I did with those beings. I do intend to continue working (toward) their safety and their security.”

Barrett is planning another trip to visit the white lions of Timbavati and hopes to become a much more active advocate for them here in the states.

“It is my intent to continue my connection to the lions,” she said. “By becoming a guide to bring others on this sacred journey.”


Information from: Black Hills Pioneer, http://www.bhpioneer.com

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